Burnaby city council has approved in principle a tenant-assistance policy that is being hailed as “groundbreaking”.
The policy will require developers to provide rental top-ups for tenants who are going to be displaced by new projects.
This means that tenants will not be paying more than their current rent at their new accommodations.
The top-ups will be for a period of 36 months. It generally takes three years to complete a development.
The policy was approved in a city-council meeting Monday (December 2).
According to Coun. Joe Keithley, the measure aims to provide tenants “peace of mind”.
“The big thing is that it gives a sense of security, because developers have to top up the rent,” Keithley told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The policy also reiterates a measure adopted by council in May 2019 that gives tenants the right of first refusal to return to their original unit. Upon return, the rent will be either the same as when the tenants left, plus the yearly increase allowed by provincial law, or 20 percent below market rates.
In addition, the policy provides either moving expenses—ranging from $900 to $1,400—or moving services paid for by the developer.
Burnaby city staff will seek input from housing stakeholders on the policy before returning to council for final adoption. Keithley said he will push for the early implementation of the policy.
“I’d like to get this approved at the very first council meeting in 2020,” Keithley said. “There’s no point in waiting.”
The Burnaby chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) described the policy as groundbreaking and the best in the country. Acorn Burnaby chair Murray Martin said in a media release that the policy will provide stability for tenants facing displacement.
“We are feeling much better now that the city is taking the issues facing renters seriously,” Martin said. He noted that displaced tenants often face 50-percent rent increases when looking for new homes.
“This new policy treats all renters equally regardless of length of tenure, ensures that increased rental costs will be incurred by developers, and in conjunction with Burnaby’s recent rental zoning policy forces developers to build a replacement unit at the same rent and offer it to the displaced tenant,” Martin said.
Mayor Mike Hurley said in a separate release that the policy will “make life more affordable for Burnaby residents”, even as the city “continues to grow”.
“Burnaby is a diverse city and this will keep our communities that way,” Hurley said.
A housing task force that was previously formed by Hurley had recommended strengthening assistance to tenants. The new policy will apply to new and pending rezoning applications; the measure will cover rental buildings with at least five units.
In a report to council about the policy, director of planning Ed Kozak noted that 94 percent of the city’s purpose-built market rentals were constructed before the 1980s.
“Due to their age, opportunity for increased density, land value, and location, there is significant pressure to redevelop many of these sites,” Kozak wrote. “As a result, tenants are being displaced in a challenging rental market.”